Residents flee as fires reach Athens suburbs


where will we go?' Residents flee as fires reach Athens suburbs

Yorgos Papayano spent four hours using a garden hose to try to save his newly built home from a massive fire until police patrolling his northern Athens suburb ordered him and his girlfriend to leave.

By then, the fires in the Parnitha foothills had engulfed acres of lush forest, evacuating town after town in the region and forcing thousands of people to flee with the few belongings they could salvage.

Papaya, 26, said Friday, as he sat in the parking lot with his girlfriend as ash fell around them from the smoke-filled sky.

"We only had one night in our new house and then had to give it up," he said. His home was in the district of Polydendri.

The wildfires swept through forests around Athens and overwhelmed the northern suburbs of the city. Three years ago, more than 100 people were killed in Greece's deadliest fire.

But the flames and horrific swirls of black smoke - visible from the capital's center - spread panic among the residents who were forced to flee.

"We are unfortunate, unfortunate," said a resident of the suburb of Capandreti as she rinsed her garden. "It's not just about us; there are thousands of people who have lost their homes and their wealth," said the woman, who asked to be named only Maria.

Hundreds of fires are raging across the country as Greece ravages the worst heatwave in 30 years, from western Peloponnese to the island of Evia east of Athens.

Fires broke out near Athens around the main highway linking the capital with northern Greece. By early Friday formed a wide front threatening the residential areas of Thrakomadidones, Stamatta, and Agios Stefanos. The site is prosperous and peaceful and is famous for its forests.

Everything is burning

"There was a lot of fire. Everything burned down houses, factories, and everything," said Waseem Khan, a worker at the pottery workshop that was destroyed by the fire. "Everyone has left, so I'm leaving too. What are we going to do now? Where are we going?"

The police went to each home, urging people to leave their homes before it was too late.

Authorities opened shelters, and hotels provided rooms to house people forced to flee.

Many people face uncertain days before they know if they have a home to return to. 

"I was watching TV, and I could see fires burning on the opposite mountain," Papayano said. "I didn't think it would come to us."

"We'll probably sleep in the car tonight until we find a friend to host us."

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